What Were We Thinking?


There’s a lot of reflection that happens as the year comes to a close.  Earlier this week, I had written about a chronology of computers in education (as I fondly remember it) “After trying everything, what’s the plan now?”  It brought a small tear to my eye.

Now, what would computer use be without software?

For the earliest part of my teaching career, I was teaching computer science and so it was easy.  A computer science teacher can take any programming language and turn it into great things in the classroom.  The key to success in computer science isn’t about teaching the nuances of any particular language but instead about teaching thinking, problem solving, computational thinking, etc.  It’s one of the reasons why I shudder when someone talks about a course “Oh, that’s my Visual Basic course”.  

Running in parallel to those teaching programming, great educators were using software to help with their subject area.  It’s hilarious to compare what we have at our fingertips today with what was available back then.  Do you want to take a trip through memory lane and appreciate what you have today?  Then, you need to read this article “14 Educational Computer Games That True Nerds Remember Playing“.  Notice that even the word “playing” is in the title of the post!  At the time, I don’t think we truly got it.

When you read it, you’ll enjoy screen captures from some of the leading software of the time.

  • Math Blaster
  • Roller Coaster
  • Oregon Trail
  • Jumpstart Series
  • Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego
  • Putt-putt
  • Lemonade Stand
  • Clue Finder
  • Number Munchers
  • Freddy Fish
  • Reader Rabbit
  • Arthur’s Computer Adventure
  • Kid Pix
  • Amazon Trail

Ah, the classics. Who can’t but salivate with the memory of the block graphics and colours that were available and kept kids occupied for hours?

Can you imagine a piece of software today where you actually virtually die when you’re not successful?

Now, these were developed in the United States.  Here in Canada, we had our moments too.  Who could forget “Off Shore Fishing”, “Cross Country Canada”, “Bartlett Saga”…

While most/all of these pieces of software are/should be memories, it’s interesting to note the titles that persist.  Logo, Programming Languages have all remained as available for use with the current technology.  Is there a message there?

In terms of software, there is a stronger message and those would claim that they’re teaching in the classroom for preparation for the workplace need to pay attention.  The life of software is fleeting.  Instead, teaching needs to focus on what the use of technology enables – collaboration, thinking, planning, connecting…

With that mindset, it doesn’t matter what the next latest and greatest technology will be.  When we think about thinking and learning, we can take whatever they throw at us.

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OTR Links 12/31/2014


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Is The Writing On The Wall?


One of the nice things about being an early riser is that it doesn’t bother me to schedule a doctor or dentist appointment first thing in the morning.  Of course, everything is computerized and so in a couple of recent trips, I watched and the receptionists/clerks would come into the office, turn their computers on and then go about doing a bunch of other things.  I asked both of them about this and the response was the same – “I don’t have time to waste watching this thing start”.  I took a peek and one machine was Windows 7 and the other Windows XP.  It really was minutes of waiting for booting before they were able to log in and get started.

I remember doing the same thing at our professional learning labs.  For a workshop starting at 4pm, I’d be there at 3:30 to boot the machines and have things ready to go when the teachers would show up.  More often than not, they would show up a bit early to check email because the rigours of the job prohibit it during the school day.  That’s totally understood so I wanted the computers to be ready.  After all, they were giving up family time for their own learning.

I had a correspondence with a colleague recently who indicated that they had both iPads and Windows 7 computers at their elementary school.  The Windows computers were virtually abandoned because of the time that it takes to boot, login to the active directory, solve password problems, etc.  In essence, the iPads were of greater use because they were almost instant on and away you go with your lesson.  Time is such a precious commodity in the classroom and so sitting there waiting causes all kinds of delay in instruction, not to mention the things that bored, busy fingers get in to.

I do the same thing myself.  This computer is dual boot to Ubuntu and Windows.  With Ubuntu, I can turn it on and be functional within a minute or two.  With Windows, I will start the process and then have breakfast or walk the dog and then come back and hopefully everything is ready to go.  As you might imagine, I don’t do that often but on days like this, I’ll have an urge to use Windows Live Writer which is just an excellent blogging tool.

So, it was with real interest that I read about Doug Johnson’s technology implementation plan in this post “Out of the lab, off the cart, into the classroom“.  I was particularly intrigued by his move and rationale for a movement to Chromebooks. 

I think that we all recognized that Windows and Macintosh computers with their full-blown set of features for business were overkill in the classroom.  A friend of mine was fond of the expression “giving phasers to cavemen”.  As so much more is available through the web, having all the horsepower in the world in front of you isn’t all that necessary anymore.  Even your basic productivity suites are available in a web version so having a full blown desktop is becoming a luxury and a niche product.  Computer Science and Business Education come to mind but an argument for taking them to an appropriate network solution could be made as well.

So, is the writing on the wall?

Apple has certainly taken their education solution into a different direction.  I recall standing on the stage at the recent Bring IT, Together conference and looked out to the audience.  I saw so many of the trademarked Apples shining back at me.  Over the course of the three days, I saw one Surface and it was in the hands of a committee members who worked in an IT Department and not teaching. 

It’s only a few school districts that have ventured into a full blown implementation of Windows 8.  I think that the make or break moment will come in 2015 with the release of Windows 10.  I do recognize that Microsoft’s core clients are business and Windows 10 will have to handle their needs.  But, millions are spent on gear for the K-12 market.  Their needs, which include reducing wasted time at the keyboard, have to be addressed.

Otherwise, you’ll find progressive boards following Mr. Johnson’s lead or other boards using the alternatives that are provided for them.

OTR Links 12/30/2014


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

After trying everything, what’s the plan now?


Ever since there have been computers, we’ve tried to shoe horn them into the classroom, thinking that the appropriate use of them is somehow good for kids.  I think most would truthfully argue that we haven’t been completely successful.  Why don’t we stop then?  Answered above – we think that they are somehow good for kids.

Everyone in education has somehow been exposed to the successes and failures of the next best implementation plan, either as a student or part of a school/district faculty.  Don’t ever for a moment recognize that we haven’t stopped learning!

Have we tried everything?  Well, let’s see…

  • we’ve used computer cards to code and actually outsourced the actual processing to a local university;
  • we’ve set up the Bionic Beaver with a local fileserver and a few workstations daisy chained to the server which had a printer attached;
  • we’ve installed MS-DOS on the Icon computer to run “real software”;
  • we’ve fund raised ad nauseam to purchase the latest personal computers to run within the school;
  • we’ve got central funding and networked computers in a lab and lined up students to march down to the lab (after booking it, of course, and then hoping that there were enough workable machines to make the lesson worthwhile);
  • we’ve attached these networked computers to the internet because it was handy for looking stuff up;
  • we’ve realised (or at least some have) that there’s more than can be done on the internet than looking stuff up;
  • we’ve wired schools with drops in classrooms so that we could complement the lab computers with local machines so that they would help out with lessons;
  • we’ve designed plans to pull ethernet cables to portable classrooms at the same time electricity is pulled so that those rooms aren’t disadvantaged;
  • we’ve installed wireless networks because the scenario above involved pulling more wire when the number of classroom computers exceeded the number of connections;
  • we’ve purchased carts because one or two computers didn’t suit the purpose and we wanted to take the lab and move it to any location in the school;
  • we’ve connected all the computers to a local fileserver so that there is a single spot to store all student work and that could be accessible from any computer in the school;
  • we’ve connected all the computers to a fileserver stored in a data centre somewhere outside the building so that it’s accessible from anywhere and IT departments could provide better service;
  • we’ve connected all the computers to something on the web knowing that we could access it at home, in libraries, or the classroom and let someone else maintain the servers for us;
  • we’ve given up on computers and bought tablets because they had apps and could mostly do all of the other stuff;
  • we’ve wavered on tablets because they don’t have keyboards and can’t do everything that we want;
  • we’ve decided that we can’t be all things to all people and invited students to bring their own technology so that their device can go home or to the mall or to the classroom to access their work everywhere;
  • along the way, we’ve added devices, fallen in and out of love with printers, clicking things, interactive white boards, streaming devices, scanners, electronic pens, wireless and not wireless pointing devices, internal/external speakers, headphones, voice recognition, …
  • don’t get me started on software!

And the price tag is?

Hopefully, nobody from the board of trustees is using a trusty abacus to do a tally.

Yet, we continue to do this and come up with the latest and greatest plan so that the next iteration of planning will be the perfect one.

A couple of years ago, the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee invited Doug Johnson to address the group about technology and, more importantly, why and how it’s good for kids.  I’d been a fan of his Blue Skunk blog before the presentation and continue to follow it to this date.  Unfortunately, Doug had to work on Boxing Day but he did take the time to share his thinking about his latest implementation plan in this post “Out of the lab, off the cart, into the classroom“.

In the post, he describes a solution for his district’s future as a hybrid of many of the points above.  It’s an interesting read and ponder.  Will he finally get the perfect solution?

After all, we know that technology is somehow good for kids.

I appreciate the fact that he’s transparent in his planning, thinking, and sharing.  All of those in his district should now know “the plan”. 

How about your district?  Do you know your plan?  How does it stack up to Doug’s?  Do you have a better implementation plan?

OTR Links 12/29/2014


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Is Anyone Reading?


I had an interesting Twitter conversation yesterday. 

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that my blog post on Fridays features some of the really good blog reading that I’ve done the past while from Ontario Edubloggers.

I do a lot of reading but what really impresses me are the thoughts from folks in Ontario who talk about education in the context of the Ontario Curriculum.  In their way, they are leading the charge to innovation and great thinking about what’s best for schools and students.  It’s a way of sharing the learning in ways that were just not possible years ago.

Years ago, you might go to one board PD Day a year or twice a year if you were lucky.  You got filled up with knowledge and ideas for one day and then it was back to the regular routine.  Quite frankly, any change is incremental and there certainly wasn’t an opportunity to celebrate success or reach out to colleagues for a continual dialogue after the fact.  All that has changed now for these leaders who are very transparent in their learnings and their thoughts.  They’re sharing regularly.

And yet, the question was thrown back to me – I’ll bet my superintendent has no idea what I’m doing.

That’s a really sad question.

I know that everyone has lots to do but, in a position of leadership, is there nothing more important that listening to those who are actually carrying out the work in the classroom?

I had a coffee recently with another friend who was talking about a supposed leader in social media who is held up as an example.  The comment was made that it’s good that Christmas is a recurring event.  The Principal’s Christmas message from last year was still up on the school website and in a few weeks it would be timely again.

Compare that to the classroom teacher who is constantly learning, growing, sharing, promoting the cause.

The call to action from this post?  If you’re a principal or superintendent, you absolutely need to find some way to gather the blog and social media content from your jurisdiction and read what’s happening.  Set up an RSS feed, a Livebinder, a Scoopit page,  a Flipboard page, …  There are leaders in your charge.  Celebrate with them and promote the cause for continuous learning and sharing. You might want to even go out on a limb and leave a comment or engage in a conversation.

You want to demonstrate and talk about 21st Century skills?  They’re probably being very well demonstrated just a few steps away.